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Backpacking Sri Lanka 2019: A Ridiculously In-Depth Guide!
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Booking A Sri Lanka Safari in 2019? Everything You Need To Know!

Written by:
Cazzy Magennis
/
Last updated:
March 14, 2019
Travel stories
Below is your ultimate guide to booking the perfect Sri Lankan safari. Whether it's Yala, Wilpattu, Udawalawe or another, we've got you covered today.
Sri Lanka safari
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When visiting the wonder of Asia that is Sri Lanka, your itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the amazing Safaris on offer in the country. When you think of a safari, we typically think of Africa, but don’t underestimate the greatness of a Sri Lanka Safari.

It is easily one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka and when it came to deciding what safari in Sri Lanka I would opt for, there was A LOT of choice. So I figured to make your life a little easier, a guide covering all you need to know about safaris in Sri Lanka would be pretty useful.

So, with that in mind, keep reading this guide to create the perfect Sri Lanka safari holidays...

elephants in sri lanka safari

Let’s begin with our experience.

We visited the Wilpattu National Park Safari which is well known for its leopard sightings, and is actually the reason I choose it. I love elephants, but I’ve seen a lot of elephants, so I figured we could try and spot something different. It was an AMAZING safari, and fantastically priced on booking. com and you can read about the experience here.

But imagine, staying in a luxury tent, dining underneath the stars, and you’ll have a taste of what a Wilpattu National Park Safari is like.

Going on safari in Sri lanka

There are 22 national parks in Sri Lanka. But with so much choice, it’s hard to know where to start searching for the perfect Sri lanka safari tours. Sri Lanka wildlife consists of amazing elephants, bears, leopards and so much more.

Here’s a detailed look at the 6 most popular national parks in Sri Lanka for safaris.

Yala safaris in Sri Lanka

About Yala national park

Yala national park is probably the most popular and well known safari in all of Sri Lanka. It’s the second largest national park in Sri Lanka and it’s a wonderful safari experience for all, especially families.

Yala safari is located around six hours from Colombo which is why most people organise a tour here (some of which I’ve listed below).

Animals to see in Yala national park safari:

  • 215 bird species including , Sri Lanka wood pigeon, blue-tailed bee-eater, amongst many others
  • 44 mammals including, the famous Sri Lankan elephant, leopards (Yala has the highest density of leopards in the world), the Sri Lanka sloth bear, and many more.
  • 47 reptile species including the Sri Lankan flying snake, Indian cobra, and saltwater crocodile, among others.

The only problem with Yala is that because it is so popular, you’re going to be in a park that is filled with jeeps. You may even see more jeeps than animals, and because of the high number of visitors, the chances of seeing leopards is slim due to the noise etc. But, you have a very high chance of seeing lots of elephants, so if you love elephants and don’t mind the crowds, then it’s a great choice!

Yala is closed during the drought season from the 1st of September to the 15th of October, but you can visit other national parks at this time, including Wilpattu.

Be aware that all my safari suggestions below include accommodation and safari for one night unless otherwise stated. I always find it’s best to get everything booked beforehand, plus it makes you excited!

sloth bear in sri lanka

Best luxury safaris in Yala

If you want an out of this world Yala safari experience, then these spots will not fail to deliver.

Yala National Park All-Inclusive 2-Day Safari At The Leopard Nest Campsite

$450 per person

This is an excellent Sri Lanka safari that offers luxurious accommodation amongst the jungle with an all inclusive experience. Imagine sleeping in a luxury treehouse with your own camp fire underneath the stars.

The price is excellent for the beautiful accommodation, all your food and drink and two game drives with a professional and qualified guide.

It also includes pick up from Colombo, Mount Lavinia and Negombo, Kalutara, Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Unawatuna, Mirissa and Weligama, which is excellent.

They take care of everything, so all you need to worry about is spotting animals and having an amazing time!

You can do a 2 night version of this same trip but with Viator.

Kulu Safari

$725 for two people all inclusive

This is a brilliant safari tour and you can go for an all-inclusive option that includes all your food, drinks, alcohol drinks and 2 game drives. Great value. The accommodation is in the style of luxury tents with little decks which is perfect for dining under the stairs.

It will feel like you're camping in Sri Lanka, but in ultimate luxury.

Book it here.

Chena Huts by Uga Escapes

Prices start at $700 for two people all inclusive

An all-inclusive stay with accommodation location within the jungle and a safari experience. Everything is included within this price, food, drinks, alcoholic drinks, spa experiences. It’s TOTAL luxury, but it’s expensive, but you can see why.

It's the perfect jungle safari in Sri Lanka.

Take me with you. Book your stay here.

sri lanka safari elephants

Best budget safaris in Yala

If you want a budget experience in Yala national park, then you’ll need to book cheap accommodation within Yala vicinity then book a day safari. You’ll still get all the animal sightings experience, but miss out on the camping and dinner under the stars. Below are some great value choices.

Viator Budget Yala Half Day Safari Experience

$37.50 per person

Includes pick up and drop off from your hotel in Yala, Katagrama area, and a 4 hour safari keep experience. Get it here.

Viator Private Yala Half Day Safari

$38.25 per person

If you’re on time constraints, then this is a great choice. It includes pick up from your hotel and you can arrange an early money or afternoon safari experience to suit your day.  Includes a private driver for a private experience.

Great choice for couples on a budget looking for a Yala safari.

Get it here.

Elephant Lake Yala  

$220 dollars per night

I’ve also included this one, as I think it’s a budget option for two reasons:

  1. You can book an all-inclusive option that includes your accommodation, all your food, all alcohol drinks and a half day safari for only $105 dollars each, which is BRILLIANT value for absolutely everything.
  2. You can book to stay in a tent and just breakfast for $33 dollars each per night and add on a safari experience.

Book your amazing stay here.

Best mid range safaris in Yala

Eco Island Sri Lanka Tented Safari Camp Yala

$288 per night (based on two people sharing)

This mid-range accommodation offers you the chance to stay in a beautiful tent within the jungle alongside breakfast and dinner under the stairs. The price includes a 5 hour game drive and it’s a great choice for those who have a little extra to spend and would like the overnight experience of a safari. 5 hours is a good amount of time to see some amazing animals!

Book your experience here.

Big Game Camp Yala

$264 per night (based on two people sharing)

Big Game camp is the company that Bradley and I stayed with in Wilpattu, and they offer safari experiences in both Yala and Udawalawe.

You get five star service for a mid range price, and I personally think it’s excellent value for money. You get to stay in a luxury tent underneath the stars in jungle surroundings. The dining underneath the stars in the evening is a spectacular experience with a 5 course meal.

The staff at Big Game Camp are outstanding across the board and you’ll truly not want to leave!

With the safari option you get a half day safari, an afternoon tea, and breakfast and dinner under the stars.

Book your Big Game Safari Stay here.

Best luxury Yala safari for couples and honeymoons

I’ve included two safaris which I think ooze romance and bliss for couples who simply want to have a romantic safari experience, or who are celebrating their honeymoon. These are both all inclusive options and include two game drives.

The tents are beyond luxurious and it’s a truly wilderness safari experience that screams romance. You’ll see what I mean…

Jetwing Safari Camp (All Inclusive)

$467 based on two people sharing

Get it here

Yala Tented Camp by Ajith Safaris - All Inclusive

$678 based on two people sharing

Get it here

Wilpattu safaris in Sri Lanka

About Wilpattu national park

Wilpattu national park is the oldest and largest national park in Sri Lanka. It was actually closed for 16 years during the Sri Lankan civil war, but is now open to the public again.

Wilpattu national park is a perfect choice if you’re visiting the cultural hubs of Anuradhapura as it’s only 30 minutes away by tuk tuk. This is the park Bradley and I visited and it’s wonderful.

It’s famous for its natural pools of water that exist, so you get a true essence of the “wild” here. It’s the perfect safari in Sri Lanka for all seasons as both the wet and dry season bring different types of animals.

For example, the wet season is meant to bring greater sightings of sloth bears, but we got to see one in the dry season too!

Wilpattu national park is around 4 hours from Colombo.

Wilpattu is among the top national parks world-renowned for its leopard population, which is why Bradley and I visited. The best time to visit Wilpattu is February to October, but you can visit all year round with certain eco groups.

Animals to see in Wilpattu national park safari:

  • Birds: there are lots of amazing birds to see including The painted stork, the open bill, little cormorant, Sri Lankan junglefowl among others
  • Mammals: 31 species of mammals have been identified so far including the Sri Lanka elephant, the Sri Lankan sloth bear, leopards, water buffalo, spotted deer, amongst others
  • Reptiles: The most common reptiles include the common cobra, the mugger crocodile, Indian python amongst others

Wilpattu is a quiet national park, probably because it was closed for so long, but that’s a good thing. You will only come across 2 or 3 jeeps on your journey (if even that) and you will truly feel like you’ve got the whole park to you and the wildlife, which I think is what a true safari experience should be like.

So if you want a secluded Sri Lankan Safari experience, then this is the perfect one for you.

wilpattu national park safari
Big Game Camp from above!

Best luxury safaris in Wilpattu

Mahoora Tented Safari Camp All-Inclusive

$639 per two people sharing

This is a fantastic all-inclusive option for a Wilpattu Safari experience. It includes everything you could ever need, food, drink, alcohol drinks, One Half-day safari ride in a luxury jeep with forward-facing seats, even a picnic lunch on the safari day, and much more.

Book it here.

Leopard Trails Wilpattu

$1009 per night per two people sharing

A 5 star resort that oozes luxury, and it’s no surprise with the price. It includes everything you need including, food, drinks, alcoholic drinks, and two game drives.

Book it here.

Best budget safaris in Wilpattu

Private day tour

$56

If you’re looking for a budget option then this private day tour is a great option!

Get it here.

Afternoon game drive

$50

If you are on a time constraint, then an afternoon safari in Wilpattu is a great idea. This tour leaves from Anuradhapura, which is perfect as it’s only 20 minutes away and something you can do after a morning of sightseeing in the area!

Book it here.

Best mid range safaris in Wilpattu

Big Game Camp Wilpattu  

This is the safari in Sri Lanka that Brad and I went on. I can say it’s amazing value, an amazing experience and you can read all about it here.

Book here: This is my absolute highest recommendation for luxury, value and experience.

wilpattu national park safari tent
eating dinner at big game camp

Udawalawe safaris in Sri Lanka

About Udawalawe national park

Udawalawe national park is located near South of Sri Lanka and it is literally bursting with Sri Lankan elephants...more than 500, so it’s an elephant lovers dream. You’re almost guaranteed to spot them with those numbers.

Udawalawe national park safari is located 4 hours from Colombo and is the 3rd most popular Sri Lankan safari.

Within the park there is even a he Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home was established in 1995 for the purpose of looking after abandoned elephant calves within the park. Cute right?

The best time to visit a Udawalawe safari in Sri Lanka is all year. It’s an all year park due to its location, which makes it a perfect spot for any Sri Lankan itinerary.

Animals to see in Udawalawe national park safari:

  • Bids: Over 180 species of birds including, Sri Lanka spurfowl, red-faced malkoha, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, brown-capped babble among others. It’s actually regarded as one of the top bird watching sights in all of Sri Lanka
  • Mammals: There are over 42 mammals recorded in the park, particularly notable for its Sri Lankan Asian elephants. Other mammals include, Sri Lankan leopard, sloth bear, sambar deer, wild boar among others.
  • Reptiles: There are over 32 reptile species including, oriental garden lizards, mugger crocodiles, and 30 species of snakes, among others.

This is a perfect choice for those who want to get awesome pictures of elephants and baby elephants. It’s a fairly popular park, but won’t have the same crowds of Yala, so it’s a good choice for those looking for something in between Wilpattu and Yala, and since it’s good for spotting animals all year round, there are no seasonal restrictions on when you visit.

That's why people love a Sri Lanka safari Udawalawe.

deer in sri lanka

Best luxury safaris in Udawalawe

Master Campers

$643 per two people sharing

All all-inclusive tent jungle experience in beautiful Udawalawe. Highly rated food, accommodation and safari experience, this is an excellent choice for families and friends. Reviews say they take you up real close to the elephants!

Price includes your alcohol, food, accommodation and two game drives.

Get it here.

Best budget safaris in Udawalawe

Private Tour: Udawalawe National Park Safari (half day)

Start at $31 per person

If you’d like your own romantic private safari tour of Udawalawe national park then this is a great value choice. It’s a half day safari giving you the chance to spot some animals in a morning game drive.

Book it here.

Private full day tour of Udawalawe national park safari

Starts at $63 per person

If a half day simply isn’t enough for you, then opt for this private full day safari tour! You’ll have even more chance of spotting amazing animals.

Book it here.

Best mid range safaris in Udawalawe

Big game camp Udawalawe

$239 per two people sharing

I’ve said before how brilliant our experience with Big Game Camp was in Wilpattu and it seems like the experience in Udawalawe is just as good according to the reviews, value and what’s offered.

I don’t think you can go wrong with choosing these guys. Dinner and breakfast al fresco, afternoon tea, and a game drive with luxury tent accommodation. It’s great!

Book it here.

Minneriya safaris in Sri Lanka

About Minneriya National Park

Minneriya national park is located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, and it’s a perfect choice if you’re visiting Sigiriya, (which you should). It’s one of the most important bird areas in Sri Lanka. It has an interesting elephant story…

According to the wardens, one elephant lost her baby due when pregnant due to being hit by a jeep, so as revenge, she rammed into over 15 tourists since then.

I guess elephants remember, and you should be careful not to kill their children!!!! But yeah, so the elephants are known to be a little angry at humans, which I think is fair enough.

It’s an important spot for monkeys!

Animals in Minneriya National Park

  • Birds: 160 species of birds which is why it’s an important bird area
  • Mammals: It’s recorded there is 24 different types of mammals in the park including, Sri Lankan elephant, deer, purple-faced langur and toque macaque monkeys among others.
  • Reptile: 25 reptiles including Painted-lip lizard,  Saltwater crocodile, Indian python, Asian water monitor, among others.

Fun fact, this national park safari has over 25 species of butterflies!

People tend to take a Minneriya national park safari for the chance of seeing elephants and monkeys. So if you’re a fan of both, then this is a good spot. A good time to take a Minneriya national park safari is July to September as that’s when the elephants flock there.

elephants in sri lanka

Best safaris in Minneriya

With regards to booking online, there isn’t a WIDE range of choice, but there is a good value private tour listed below. This is because the park isn’t as popular as other marks, so it’s really only worth a day tour, rather than an overnight safari experience.

If you’re on a time constraint, then opt for this. Because you will be near Sigiriya, it’s always worth staying there, then doing your safari from there. It’s popular for companies and lodges to offer safaris with them too.

If you need a place to stay near Minneriya, then I recommend the Cassandra Culture Resort, because it’s cheap, luxurious and has amazing views. You won’t regret it, trust me.

Private tour of Minneriya national park

$44 per person

If you’d like your own private safari tour of Minneriya national park sorted before you arrive, then this is a good choice. It also offers pick up and drop off within the area which will save on tuk tuk costs!

Get it here.

Bundala safaris in Sri Lanka

About Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park is an internationally important wintering ground for migratory water birds in Sri Lanka. It’s located in the Southern area of Sri Lanka and it well known for its bird population and it’s located around 4.5 hours from Colombo.

I haven’t heard much about this park in terms of reviews, and it’s very close to Yala so it probably loses a lot of competition from there, but that’s probably a good thing which makes it quieter to visit.

Animals to see in Bundala national park

  • Birds: Almost a whopping 200 bird species are located in the park
  • Mammals: 32 mammals inhibit the park including some elephants, leopard, wild boar, mouse deer, among others
  • Reptiles: There are 43 species of reptiles including rat snake, python, crocodile, amongst others

I think is probably one of the least visited national parks in Sri Lanka and it’s not a good choice if you want to see elephants. But, if you like birds and reptiles then it’s a great choice! The best time to take a Bundala national park safari is September to March.

leopards in sri lanka

Best safaris in Bundala

Full day safari with Picnic

$81 per person

If you’re looking for a full day safari in Bundala then this is a great choice. You’ll start your day at 5.30 with a pick up from your hotel and head out to find amazing animals, then you’ll stop half way through for a picnic lunch in the jungle, then head back to your hotel at around 4.30pm.

Book it here.

Bundala national park safari

$48 per person

You can choose from a full day or half day safari for this trip (great if you’re on a time constraint). It’s a similar experience to above, but without the picnic lunch.

Get it here.

animals

Wasgamuwa safaris in Sri Lanka

About Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa national park is located central of Sri Lanka and was actually created by the government to help displaced wild animals (one of four).

Wasgamuwa is one of protected areas where Sri Lankan Elephants can be seen in large herds and its one of the important bird areas of Sri Lanka.

It’s located around 5 hours from Colombo and the best time to visit is

Animals to see in Wasgamuwa national park

  • Birds: There are 143 species of bird in the park including, Endemic red-faced malkoha, Lesser adjutant, yellow-fronted barbet, amongst others.
  • Mammals: There are a recorded 23 mammals in the park including, 154 Sri Lankan elephants, monkeys, water buffalo, amongst others. Sightings of leopards and sloth bears are rare.
  • Reptiles: There are 17 species including, mugger crocodile and water monitor.

If you’d like to spot some elephants in a relatively quiet

Best Wasgamuwa National Park safaris

Budget safari at Wasgamuwa national park

TCS Safari Village  

$40 per couple sharing

This safari village offers budget accommodation, and you can book on a great value safari trip when you are there. They offer both full day and half way game drives.

It’s located in a wild area, so you might even spot some wildlife amongst your living surroundings!

Book it here.

Safari at Wasgamuwa National Park

$57 per person

This is a full day safari option, perfect if you’ve just got a day to spend and are not fussed on staying near or within the borders of the national park.

Book it here.

Luxury safaris at Wasgamuwa national park

Explorer by Mahoora - Wasgamuwa  

$980 based on two people sharing

This is definitely a luxurious option for those looking to truly relax and unwind on their safari experience.

It’s an all inclusive option that covers your food, drink, alcoholic beverages, luxury tented accommodation and of course your high quality game drive with guide. You even get a picnic on your drive as well!

Book it here.

Mid range safaris in Wasgamuwa national park

Camping in Wasgamuwa National Park

$359

You can opt to stay overnight in the park for one or two nights on an all inclusive options with tented accommodation, 3 course dinner, beer, and two safari game drives for twice the chances to spot amazing animals.

Book your stay here.

monkeys at wilpatuu

Kumana national park safaris in Sri Lanka

About Kumana national park

Kumana national park safari is located near Arugam bay, and you can actually do a tuk-tuk safari before you get to the official entrance, which is pretty cool. You can spot elephants, deer and water buffalo.

Kumana was formerly known as Yala East National Park, but changed to its present name on 5th September 2006.

It’s one of the most important bird nesting and breeding grounds in Sri Lanka with 255 species of birds have been recorded in the national park.

It’s perfect is you’re on a budget because you can drive your own tuk tuk to the park, or even pay a tuk tuk driver to take you, or of course, you can go inside the park for a game drive too!

Animals you can see in Kumana national park:

  • Birds: 255 species of birds recorded, which makes it the largest bird safari in Sri Lanka
  • Mammals: The different types of mammals include, the golden jackal, wild boar, Sri Lankan elephant, and the European otter.
  • Reptiles: Reptiles include  Mugger crocodile, Indian flap-shelled turtle and Indian black turtle.

I think this is a good safari in Sri Lanka if you’re surfing in Arugam bay and just want something close and easy. You might not see as many animals as you would on say, a Yala safari, but it’s fun all the same!

Best Kumana national park safaris in Sri Lanka

Private tour of Kumana national park

$84

If you’d like a private tour experience of Kumana national park safari, then this is a great choice at a great price.

Book it here

One night camping in Kumana national park safari

$408

If you’d like the chance to stay overnight and do camping with a safari experience, then this is a great choice and it’s even better as it’s organised from Colombo which is where you’ll be flying in to!

Book it here

Ridiyagama safari park in Sri Lanka

About Ridiyagama safari park

Ridiyagama is a safari park and the first of is kind in all of Sri Lanka. It’s 500 acres and it’s more a zoo, I’d say, except you’re the ones in cages and the animals roam free.

This was one Sri Lanka national park I wasn't aware of before my research, or during my visit.

It was open to the public in 2016, so it’s very new by Sri Lankan standards. They have 22 different types of animals and you can do day trips to this safari park, but no camping!

This safari has animals from other countries too such as camels, zebras, lions, etc, but they all roam free. You can take a day tour to it here from Colombo.

Cost for entrance into Ridiyagama safari park:

Adult: LKR 2500.00

Children: LKR 1250.00

Common FAQ about safaris in Sri Lanka

How much do Sri Lanka safaris cost?

If you've been wondering about a Sri Lanka safari price, it can range greatly.

You can definitely get a cheap safari by using online websites like the suggestions I’ve made above, but mainly the cheap way to do it is to book your accommodation with booking.com and book an full day or half day tour with an online booking company.

It’s always cheaper than paying there, because you don’t have to haggle.

Check out these sites for the best deals.

Viator

GetYourGuide

Booking.com

If you want luxury, then you can find that too, and the safaris in Sri Lanka that I suggested above are about as luxurious as it gets!

Should I book a safari before I get to Sri Lanka?

Personally I think yes. When you get to Sri Lanka and try and buy a safari in a tour or something, then you’ll often get charged more because you’re white and people often expect you to have lots of money.

It can sometimes be hard and hassle to negotiate, so if you book a tour ahead of time, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting for your money and you can pay for it in advanced. Overall, Sri Lanka safari tours are bet bought in advance.

When is the best time to do a Sri Lanka safari?

There are safaris in Sri Lanka available all year round. So depending on the month you decide to go, you’ll find something.

Throughout this post, I’ve listed the best times to visit each safari in Sri Lanka, so use that as a guide when booking your Sri Lankan safari adventure.

I hope you have enjoyed my post on safaris in Sri Lanka. I’ve tried to include every safari that is available in Sri Lanka that you could possibly want. If you visit any of these places, let me know what you thought and if you enjoyed it.

If you're wondering what is the best safari in Sri Lanka, personally my favourite is the Big Game Camp, because that’s where I stayed, but to be honest, they all look fantastic and whatever you choose, you’ll have a wonderful safari experience in Sri Lanka!

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